Review: 'The Hangover Part III' is Good Catharsis, But Awful Comedy
by Jeremy Kirk
May 23, 2013
The Hangover Part III is a bad comedy, and not bad like The Hangover Part II's ridiculous in-your-face rehashing of the first film's inventive and hilarious plot. It's as if Todd Phillips, writer/director of the series, got so fed up with complaints of the second film's copy-and-past attitude that he's gone in a completely different direction, to the point that The Hangover Part III isn't really even a comedy. The dark corner the second film took begins turning even harder from scene one. Full scenes go by without attempts at a laugh. What started out as fun has turned deep, dark and depressing…kind of like a bachelor party.
And there's very little blaming Phillips for taking this approach to following up a film that, in my uneducated belief, he had no interest in following up in the first place. The Hangover was a breath of fresh air in the Summer of 2009. The main cast: Bradley Cooper as the smooth but dick-ish Phil, Ed Helms as the human punching bag dentist Stu, and Zach Galifianakis as Alan, a man who, quite frankly, is insane. Alan has a strange concept of the world where he's eternally 12, yet things like taking roofies and buying giraffes are just fine. He's insane.
The roofie, or general drug use, part is where the first two films begin, insane nights of partying followed directly by long days of figuring out what the hell happened, but told in a sort of reverse order. Both films are incredibly funny, mixing gross-out humor with an odd sense of brotherhood between these three friends Alan has so graciously dubbed The Wolf Pack. Yeah, he's insane. But where the first film was imaginative in structure and nailed solid laughs pretty much throughout, the direct follow-up could only deliver the laughs. It did. The Hangover Part II is a funny movie, but the sense of familiarity at every turn it took was impossible to overcome. That sense also overshadowed the brewing shadow of darkness the entire series was taking on overhead.
That darkness, and the giraffe, are where The Hangover Part III begins. After a quick trip back to Thailand showing the prison break of one Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong),the deranged gangster who keeps making the The Wolf Pack's lives all the more difficult, we move to Alan. And the giraffe, though the giraffe doesn't last long thanks to Alan's carelessness. Also he's off his meds. That poor giraffe and another death at the beginning of The Hangover Part III are the catalyst for an intervention. Alan's family steps in, bringing Phil and Stu along for support, and soon The Wolf Pack plus Doug (Justin Bartha), the lost fourth member who always misses out on the adventures, set out for Arizona and Alan's step towards normalcy. Then things get darker.
John Goodman shows up as Marshall, a drug lord hell-bent on getting his hands on Chow. Marshall believes The Wolf Pack knows where Chow is, kidnaps Doug, and forces the other three to find Chow and deliver him. That setup and the ensuing adventure through Mexico and eventually a return to Las Vegas are certainly laden with that darkness we were talking about. But minus that opening death scene, The Hangover Part III goes to black comedy later in the film when Marshall shoots someone point blank.
The rule for black comedy is that anything can be funny; death, war, famine, yes, even disease. Yes, even sadistic crime lords who kidnap and murder people for the sake of money. And revenge. But while these topics are allowed to be funny, the form in which they come must actually be funny. That's where The Hangover Part III loses every ounce of its potential. The jokes aren't there. This may be a conservative guesstimate, but 60% of the jokes in this film are typical Alan or Chow shtick, represented by either Alan drinking a Tab without a shirt on or Chow firing a revolver to kill crazed chickens he's raised for cock fighting. Those are examples of where The Hangover Part III makes us chuckle, too.
But beyond those random chuckles, this film looks and feels more like a crime thriller, a gritty one, than anything that's supposed to make you entertained with laughter. Apart from the insane moments that usually had Stu screaming "What the f***!", the first two films had a tiny amount of genuine heart. Even though these three friends probably shouldn't have been in each others' lives, you felt a camaraderie between them, and at the end of the hangover day, you laughed with them as they reflected on that day instead of at them for being in the day in the first place. None of that is here in Part III.
Its unfortunate, because that was the part of The Hangover that made you want a sequel. You liked these three being together, and their reactions to all the insanity going on around them was what made you laugh the hardest. With this third film, there's a sense that everyone is going through the motions. Stu gets his "What the f***!" moments, not even really shot for comedy any more, but it's now just Ed Helms screaming the line we've all heard a dozen times before. Neither he nor Cooper have any place in The Hangover Part III. They're here to bounce around Alan and Chow's psychotic universes, and Galifianakis and Jeong end up being the stars this time around. Sadly, they, too, feel like they're just running through the motions.
It's hard to blame anyone for this film and why it doesn't work. Phillips got hit with serious backlash for The Hangover Part II and its familiar return to form. It's no wonder this third film takes a serious departure from anything we've seen before in this series. You could view The Hangover Part III as Phillips giving his critics, and possibly his fans, the finger. But the post-credit moment in this film is what hints at Phillips also winking at those same critics and fans. It's the most insane The Hangover Part III, and probably the whole series, gets, and it shows us exactly what might have happened had The Hangover Part II been met with cheers of "Yes, give us more of the same." Unfortunately, the 90 minutes that come before that are too dark, too dour, and too depressing to overcome. Congratulations, Mr. Phillips. You've killed your franchise. I suspect that was your intent all along.
Jeremy's Rating as a comedy: 3 out of 10
Jeremy's Rating as catharsis for Todd Phillips: 8 out of 10